Nitric oxide signaling in brain function, dysfunction, and dementia

Neuroscientist. 2010 Aug;16(4):435-52. doi: 10.1177/1073858410366481.


Nitric oxide (NO) is an important signaling molecule that is widely used in the nervous system. With recognition of its roles in synaptic plasticity (long-term potentiation, LTP; long-term depression, LTD) and elucidation of calcium-dependent, NMDAR-mediated activation of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS), numerous molecular and pharmacological tools have been used to explore the physiology and pathological consequences for nitrergic signaling. In this review, the authors summarize the current understanding of this subtle signaling pathway, discuss the evidence for nitrergic modulation of ion channels and homeostatic modulation of intrinsic excitability, and speculate about the pathological consequences of spillover between different nitrergic compartments in contributing to aberrant signaling in neurodegenerative disorders. Accumulating evidence points to various ion channels and particularly voltage-gated potassium channels as signaling targets, whereby NO mediates activity-dependent control of intrinsic neuronal excitability; such changes could underlie broader mechanisms of synaptic plasticity across neuronal networks. In addition, the inability to constrain NO diffusion suggests that spillover from endothelium (eNOS) and/or immune compartments (iNOS) into the nervous system provides potential pathological sources of NO and where control failure in these other systems could have broader neurological implications. Abnormal NO signaling could therefore contribute to a variety of neurodegenerative pathologies such as stroke/excitotoxicity, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dementia / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Nitric Oxide